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Sportier Lifestyles Make Athleisure Russia's Default Casualwear

Fitness fad sees multibrand sporting goods retail chains begin to dominate expanding national marketplace.

Photo: Moscow makeover: Athleisure’s style and comfort is first choice for relaxing Russians.
Moscow makeover: Athleisure's style and comfort is first choice for relaxing Russians.
Photo: Moscow makeover: Athleisure’s style and comfort is first choice for relaxing Russians.
Moscow makeover: Athleisure's style and comfort is first choice for relaxing Russians.

Sales of sporting goods and accessories – particularly clothing and footwear – have soared across Russia as an unprecedented focus on fitness has swept across the country. As a sign of this, last year, an astonishing 50% of all Russians reported they were participating in one form of sporting activity or another at least once a week, an all-time high for the country.

Overall, the number of Russians adopting a regular fitness regime has doubled over the past 10 years, a development led by city dwellers, many of whom have signed up with one of the spiralling number of urban gym chains. In the smaller municipal areas, by contrast, the focus has been more on outdoor activities, notably jogging, cross-country skiing, hiking and even alfresco swimming.

Predominantly, the proponents of this new healthier lifestyle have been in the 18-30 age group, with the preferences of this particular demographic having led to a substantial increase in demand for athleisure clothing, which has virtually become the country's default style of casualwear. Within the apparel industry, it has been broadly accepted that this particular trend will persist for much of the next 10 years, with many consumers enamoured with its combination of style and comfort.

In line with this, sales of athleisure clothing and footwear in the medium- and upper-price segments rose 10% across Russia last year, despite sales in the clothing sector overall contracting by some 4%. Much of this growth was channelled through the host of multi-brand sports-goods chain stores that have sprung up in the larger cities and in many of the more peripheral regional marketplaces, usurping the traditional dominance of the single-brand retailers in the sector. As a consequence, Adidas – once the undoubted first ports of call for millions of Russian, Ukrainian, Kazakh and Armenian sportophiles – culled its retail network within the bounds of the former Soviet Union twice last year.

By contrast, it was an athleisure boom period for the country's leading e-commerce venders, notably Wildberries and Ozon, as well as for the sector's new crop of multi-brand retailers, led by Sportmaster and Decathlon. These newcomers offered such globally established names as Columbia and North Face, the most popular regional brands (including Finland's Reima and Russia's own FinnFlare), and a selection of own-label offerings (the likes of Demix and Quechua). In terms of the most popular retail formats, these have varied from region to region, with hypermarkets and shopping-mall outlets prevailing in the more outlying areas, while the concentration of consumers in St Petersburg and Moscow merited dedicated sales outlet villages.

Seemingly looking to prevail against the widespread trend for multi-brand outlets across Russia, North Face, however, has opted to launch its first own-brand store in the country this year. In order to deliver on this, it has partnered with the Inventive Retail Group, the Moscow-based company that brought re-Store, Lego and Nike to the Russian high street.

The first fruits of this partnership will open its doors in St Petersburg's Gallery Mall next month and will offer North Face's branded range of clothing, footwear and high-tech accessories for men, women and children from a 160-square-metre dedicated sales point.

In terms of the opportunities opening up for Hong Kong-based suppliers and distributors, it's fair to say that despite North Face's move, the best prospects are likely to come from the increasing number of national multi-brand sporting-goods chains. Indeed, it's seen as only a matter of time before such retailers prioritise segmentation and enhanced variety, with both moves expected to lead to greater demand for own-label offerings.

This demand will be boosted still further when, as seems inevitable, such players begin to eye expansion beyond Russia's borders. Most immediately, the country's fellow markets in the Eurasian Customs Union – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – are expected to be targeted. Somewhat ahead of the game here is Sportmaster, Russia's largest and Europe's third-largest sporting-goods chain, which has already expanded into Poland.

Leonid Orlov, Moscow Consultant

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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